The Boulder Boys Must Die

When federal prosecutors seek the death penalty in drug-related murders, the defendants are almost always black. Why should Miami's first "kingpin" case be any exception?

In the already humid hours before dawn on June 7, 1993, a heavily armed, bulletproof-vested task force of federal, state, and local law enforcement agents fanned out across northern Dade County. Their quarry: eleven men believed to be members of one of South Florida's most lucrative, murderous, bad-ass drug rings.

The effort was the culmination of a sixteen-month investigation involving the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and the police departments of Metro-Dade and the City of Miami. Using confidential informants, undercover agents, and wiretaps, Operation Boulder Boys, as the interagency probe was dubbed, revealed a drug ring that over the course of seven years had come to rule a significant portion of the crack cocaine trade in Dade. Their business, the agents had found, was organized into a rigid, sophisticated hierarchy and raked in millions of dollars each year. They drove expensive cars. They flourished guns. They carved out their turf using violence. They murdered indiscriminately.

At about 6:00 a.m. on that Monday in June, the law-enforcement groups took up positions around their targeted addresses and pounced. The dragnet captured eight suspects, all of whom were taken into custody. One was apprehended as he bolted out the back door of his Miami Lakes home wearing only his underwear. A ninth suspect was arrested later in the morning while working at a construction site at Southridge Senior High School; two more soon surrendered to the FBI. With two others who had been taken into custody over the weekend, there were thirteen captives, the alleged principal Boulder Boys conspirators.

Among other crimes, the men were charged with conspiring to manufacture and distribute cocaine. Several were also charged with murder.

More than two years later, jury selection has finally commenced in federal case no. 93-252-Criminal. Six defendants A 30-year-old Edward Alexander Mack, 30-year-old Kevin Denard Rozier, 28-year-old Mike Riley, 27-year-old Travis Thomas, 26-year-old Chedrick Crummie, and 23-year-old Kevin Alexander A are scheduled to stand trial on drug-related charges. (The remaining defendants negotiated plea bargains; their sentencings are still pending.) Mack, Rozier, and Crummie are additionally accused of two counts of homicide in the furtherance of a continuing criminal enterprise. On one of those counts prosecutors are seeking to have them put to death.

With the passage of time, the case file has swollen to include more than a thousand documents. When stacked atop one another, the papers stand four feet high. The trial, which is expected to last four to six months, doesn't boast the types of marquee personalities that would catapult it into the limelight A no fallen idols, no celebrity witnesses, no prominent attorneys in tailored suits. Still, the case is remarkable for its legal precedent, for what it suggests about the time and place we live in, and for what it says about the value of a human life.

The senator was operating on a full head of steam and a full load of bile. "Mr. President, there is a war on drugs ongoing in this country. The drug czars stop at nothing to further their enterprise of death and destruction. They poison our society; they enslave our children; they kill judges, prosecutors, and law enforcement officers. They destroy anybody who stands in their way!"

The date was June 9, 1988, and Jesse Helms was holding forth on the floor of the U.S. Senate. The matter at hand: a proposed federal death-penalty statute. "Mr. President," the North Carolina Republican plowed on, "we cannot win this war by merely throwing money at the problem. Nor can the czars be dissuaded by fines or light sentences. They laugh at such measures. What's a million dollars to a billionaire drug dealer? We must place the fear of capital punishment in the hearts of a drug czar!"

Even back in 1988, the federal government was no stranger to the controversial business of capital punishment: The death penalty was applicable to a number of federal crimes, including airline hijacking. According to Richard Dieter, director of the Death Penalty Information Center, a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., that opposes capital punishment, the U.S. government has executed 34 people since 1928, among them Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were convicted of espionage. But the last person federally executed was Victor Feuger, a kidnapper and killer who was hanged at the Iowa State Penitentiary in 1963.

The legislation that came to be known as the "drug kingpin" statute was conceived late in the 1988 presidential campaign, as a feature of then-president Ronald Reagan's War on Drugs. It calls for the death penalty for anyone who 1) is engaged in a "continuing criminal enterprise" involving more than five people and raking in a "substantial income," and who 2) kills someone, or orders a killing, to further that criminal enterprise. The law also requires that local federal prosecutors obtain personal written authorization from the U.S. Attorney General before proceeding with a capital prosecution.

At the time of its passage, critics contended that the drug kingpin statute was blatant vote-pandering and that it would deter foreign governments from extraditing suspects to the U.S. Further, they pointed out, although the new law represented no improvement upon capital-punishment statutes already in place in many states, it was a handy way for legislators from death penalty-deprived states to bring home executions.

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